Gorton, Cantwell wait out tight race

By DAVID AMMONS

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Maria Cantwell is catching up on reading, movies and thank-you notes. Slade Gorton is training for a half-marathon and preparing for a family Thanksgiving.

But life is far from normal for this political duo. Both still have reason to believe they will win the nation’s last undecided U.S. Senate race, one of these days. The Secretary of State’s Office notified county auditors Wednesday to be prepared for an automatic recount after Thanksgiving.

As 19 counties reported Wednesday, Gorton, the three-term Republican incumbent, stretched out his narrow lead a bit as returns from his strongholds more than offset Cantwell’s returns from three friendly counties.

With the addition of about 55,000 ballots, Gorton had a 8,325-vote margin, padding his lead from the previous day by more than 3,000 votes.

The latest tally was 1,113,585 votes, or 48.9 percent, for Gorton; 1,105,260, or 48.5 percent, for Cantwell; and 58,923, or 2.6 percent, for Jeff Jared, the Libertarian candidate.

Nearly 2.3 million votes now have been tallied, including more than 500,000 absentee ballots counted since Election Day. The margin has remained roughly the same, with Gorton clinging to a lead of 10,000 or fewer votes every day.

Few ballots will be counted today, but both campaigns say returns Friday from King County, which includes heavily Democratic Seattle, could be decisive. The county is Democrat Cantwell’s last, best hope of a come-from-behind win that would make her the Senate’s 13th female member.

She has been taking about 57 percent of King County. Gorton, who concentrated on the rest of the state, has been taking about 54 percent in the other counties. County officials say about 70,000 ballots, including overseas ballots and those cast at wrong precincts, remain to be tallied.

"The hammer comes down in King County," said Ellis Conklin, Cantwell’s spokesman. "The key is how many votes are actually counted there. We have heard everything from 60,000 to 100,000. We need 85,000 or 90,000 to stay in this. Then we can win."

Through midday Wednesday, Gorton was doing better in the absentee count in most of the state’s 39 counties than he did on Election Day. An analysis of returns from 25 counties showed his share of the vote was at least 1 percentage point higher than that reported for him the day of the election.

Gorton picked up votes Wednesday from such strongholds as Chelan, Clallam, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. Cantwell continued to hold the edge in Jefferson, San Juan and Thurston counties.

The two fought to a near tie in Kitsap County. Gorton escaped populous Pierce County, with its heavy blue-collar, Democratic-leaning labor vote, with an edge of about 2,100 votes, out of nearly 240,000 cast. Pierce County includes Tacoma.

"We hate to speculate … but we feel good," said Heidi Kelly, Gorton’s campaign manager. The only surprises have been pleasant ones, she said, pointing to some Eastern Washington counties that came in even higher than predicted, and to returns from Cantwell’s home county, Snohomish, that showed Gorton pulling closer.

Both sides are beginning to concede the likelihood of an automatic recount. That occurs if the race ends with a margin of less than one-half of 1 percent separating the candidates, or about 12,000 votes.

Counties must certify their final tallies by Thanksgiving eve. The secretary of state would order a recount on Nov. 27, and the actual count probably would be done on Nov. 29 and certified on Dec. 7, state elections Supervisor Gary McIntosh said.

Both campaigns said they haven’t thought about asking for a hand recount if the machine recount is very close. "We’re taking it a day at a time — no, an hour at a time," Kelly said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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